‘Despite the ban on codeine, it is still sold in open markets’
Mosunmola Dosunmu is a community pharmacist and Publicity Secretary, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Lagos chapter. The Ahmadu Bello University graduate of Pharmacy has been practicing for the past 23 years and runs her own business in Lagos. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, she opens up on her RX project, the challenges facing the industry and suggests ways that drug abuse can be nipped in the bud.
What led you into community pharmacy?
I have passion for people; love to render assistance in whatever way I can to put smiles on people’s faces.
I went into that aspect of pharmacy because I want to touch lives positively and make impact in the society as well as solve problems.
When I was doing my internship with Roche Pharmacy, I worked in the morning and do what is called Locum (working few hours), which has to do with community service. When people come, I just have that push to help them.
Then, people called me doctor obirin (woman doctor) because people with different problems come and tell me their problems, I offer medical assistance and they later come feeling better.
A lot of women told me they’ve been married for years but no children, I give professional help and things turn around for them. It really gives me joy making a difference in someone’s life through my profession and seeing them improve on their lifestyle.
Then I thought to myself that this is my area of strength. I chose this path because it is fulfilling and I’ve not looked back ever since. I worked for 13 years before setting up my own business.
How has the journey been so far?
It’s been very challenging but productive. The environment is not that favourable to pharmacists.
The economy is harsh and people don’t identify with us. May be it is because of the poverty level. People would rather go to quacks than visit the pharmacy.
The environment does not encourage professionalism. So, you as a pharmacist need to work extra and be at the right place with the right people.
Your core area is drug abuse advocacy. Why the focus on that?
I have a Pharmacy at Toyin Street, Ikeja and discovered that 30 per cent of our clients are prostitutes.
Most of the things we were selling were condoms and this is so pathetic. You will see young girls who are into prostitution come over and young boys into drugs. I developed passion to help these sets of people because they are destroying themselves.
I remember vividly talking to a 19-year-old girl with a five- year-old daughter. She must have had that child at the age of 14. She wanted to buy Augmentin drug and before you can buy, we ask for doctor’s prescription. I looked at her and asked what was wrong with her.
She was reluctant at first, I urged her to open up to me and she confided in me that she’s on cocaine, marijuana and so many things mixed together.
Apparently, that thing had affected her organs. I looked for churches with rehabilitation centres where she could get help, taken care of and stay clean from drugs but after sometime, she was back on the streets.
When I became the Publicity Secretary of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria in Lagos, we were asked to come up with a project. So, I thought of focusing on drug abuse and that was how the advocacy began.
What was the Association doing before now?
Before now, the association had been on the forefront of holding sensitization campaigns to warn people of the dangers of drug abuse and other substances. I think the number one cause of drug abuse is the open market.
There is no control and nothing has been done to win the war against drug abuse and misuse, which is doing more harm to our youths.
What is Project RX all about?
Actually, it is a project on drug abuse. After the BBC documentary on codeine, we RX team went into action. We visited seven open markets to see if we could get codeine.
To my amazement, we got it. We bought it around 12 midnight in Agege area of Lagos.
We disguised ourselves and went with cameras, but they didn’t know. We gisted with people, gave them money and we were shown the place were we bought some drugs.
Around 11:30 pm, men and women were seen displaying their drug trays. They were mixing different things for people. Those things they were mixing is called Asapo,mixture . They sold different things. What they are going to give will depend on what you want.
If you tell them you have headache, they will give you tramadol, codeine and others. They have various pain relievers and even give blood tonic. They mix all manner of things and put in a paper. It was a scary sight. On leaving the place, I shed tears.
Despite the ban on codeine, it is still sold in open markets. Project RX is a community awareness campaign and a great opportunity to start a conversation about preventive options.
We are hopeful that it would evolve into a community-wide collaborative effort to stop the harmful behaviour of drug abuse.
Youths are our main target and those who see the use of codeine and Tramadol as a trend, fashionable or party highs.
We have chosen the platform of social media, using video and music to communicate with this group, simply because we consider it efficient. This means we can reach more people with limited resources.
ACPN has been very supportive of this project and have funded this project to achieve the aim for which it was created and better results. They made this project possible. We hope to make the government take action.
RX is a big project and ACPN cannot do it alone to take this to the next level.
So, we need the collaboration of health institutions, NGO’S, celebrities, financial institutions and well-meaning Nigerians.
Anybody who appreciates this laudable project and would like to partner with us is welcome.
We hope to collaborate with artistes to reach out to the youths and raise more awareness campaigns to secondary schools in Lagos and other places.
How can this menace of drug abuse be addressed?
We need to keep talking about it and use conventional media and social to make a lot of noise about this because it is an issue of great concern.
We call on the government, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and other bodies to wake up to their responsibilities.
Who are your role models in the Pharmaceutical industry?
My role models are Pharm. Biola Paul Ezeh, Gbenga Falabi, Lolu Ojo, Pharm Adepopoola and Pharm. Obideyi. These people stand up for the truth and have done much for the profession.
Young ones are exposed to different vices out there. What do you think parents are not doing right?
Parents are not close enough to their children. They are so engrossed in their work and businesses that they hardly have time for the kids. Parents should bring them closer.
It is paramount as parents to educate our children on the dangers of drug abuse and other things that could be harmful to them.
Parents should know their children’s friends. They shouldn’t talk down on their children but win their confidence.